Digital Packaging Expands its Reach
It almost seemed like magic, as the image of Woody, the beloved character from “Toy Story,” came to life on a smartphone screen after a printed image was scanned on a shampoo bottle. But this impressive display of augmented reality during the Digital Packaging Summit’s keynote presentation was, in actuality, both a testament to the power of digital printing and a challenge to the audience that in order to make the most of digital, they need to start thinking differently.
The presentation from Rafi Albo, owner of SEGMARKETING, was just one of the many examples of how far digital printing has come that was showcased over the course of the third annual Digital Packaging Summit, held from Oct. 23-25 at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. The Summit, hosted by NAPCO Media (packagePRINTING’s parent company) and nGage Events, serves as a platform for converters and suppliers to learn about the latest in digital printing for packaging from leading industry experts, and from each other via case study presentations and one-on-one meetings.
Extending the Conversation
In its first two iterations, the Digital Packaging Summit focused solely on digital printing for labels and folding cartons because, at the time, those two segments were where digital printing had made its largest inroads in packaging. The 2017 edition of the event, however, opened up the conversation to all packaging segments, with sessions focused specifically on corrugated and discussions about digital printing’s footprint in flexible packaging.
To kick off the event and begin the conversation about digital printing’s place in all four packaging segments, Jennifer Dochstader and David Walsh, the co-chairs of the 2017 Digital Packaging Summit and co-owners of LPC, Inc., a market research and technical PR firm for the printing and packaging industry, delivered a presentation highlighting some of their latest data.
Dochstader outlined the growth that each of the four major packaging segments are displaying and what some of the main drivers are for the rise of digital printing. One of these top drivers was the continuing trend of run size contraction across all packaging segments. While this has been an ongoing trend for several years, its continued impact has led to a growing need for digital printing’s ability to cost-effectively produce short runs.
The proliferation of craft and cottage industries was another key driver for digital printing adoption that Dochstader highlighted. In addition to the major booms in craft beer, she stated that other small businesses like craft distilleries and boutique chocolatiers have hit the scene and their proclivity toward small batch production lends itself well to digital printing.
“The craft and cottage industry is exploding right now in the United States and this is a big digital driver,” Dochstader said. “Companies in all printed packaging sectors that have digital presses are really benefiting from growth and profits in the craft and cottage industry.”
In addition to learning the latest trends in digital printing across all four segments of the packaging industry, attendees received firsthand insight from one of the earliest adopters of single-pass, direct-to-board, inkjet printing for corrugated packaging. Chuck Slingerland, VP of sales, digital operations, for Abbott-Action, an Attleboro, Mass.-based corrugated packaging and display converter, shared his insight into the company’s use of a Barberán Jetmaster 1890.
During a panel discussion in which converters shared their experiences with digital printing, Slingerland explained that one of the key decision points in Abbott-Action’s acquisition of the digital press was that it would immediately differentiate the company from its competition.
“We could have invested into a high-speed flexo diecutter high-end printer and been a ‘me too,’ but we embraced the technology that was amongst us,” Slingerland said. “A lot of time and effort was spent determining what was the right fit and that process was just under two years before we made our decision and did our installation [in December 2016].”
The Brand Owner Perspective
While learning about the latest in digital printing technology is a key component to the Digital Packaging Summit, the 2017 event featured a panel of three brand representatives who shared their experiences with digital printing and how the technology could play an increasing role in their packaging.
The diverse panel featured Patrick Poitevin, senior associate principal scientist for Mondelez International, Ray Mass, the recently retired printing technology manager for Colgate Palmolive, and Calvin Osterberg, director of purchasing for Rochester Midland Corp. The panel provided an array of perspectives, with Poitevin and Mass each representing major international brand conglomerates that operate in different markets, with Mondelez primarily operating in food and beverage and Colgate-Palmolive’s brands largely existing in the personal care market. Meanwhile, Osterberg, of Rochester Midland, represented a non-consumer facing specialty chemical manufacturer.
However, despite the disparity among their businesses, each brand owner addressed the various ways they either have benefited or could benefit from digital printing. Poitevin explained that while Mondelez has used digital for the creative customizability it can provide, the company has also been able to utilize digital printing for more logistical purposes.
“Digital is not just customization like what Coca-Cola did or personalization like we have done as well,” he said. “It is also the decomplexity.”
Similarly, Osterberg walked the audience through a scenario in which Rochester Midland transitioned some of its packaging to digital, helping it gain control over its inventory. Specifically, he explained that some of Rochester Midland’s corrugated packaging is now printed digitally, whereas previously, the company would buy blank boxes in bulk, store them in its top warehouse racking and label them as needed. But by transitioning to digital, he explained that while the cost of the individual boxes may be higher, being able to order them in fewer quantities and reduce the storage and movement efforts in the warehouse essentially led the company to a break-even point.
While Mass explained that Colgate-Palmolive does not currently utilize much digital printing, he outlined some applications that he foresees it could benefit from in the future. In particular, he pointed out that regionalized point of purchase displays, along with packaging utilized in ecommerce, represent opportunities for digital printing.
“We want to create some packaging that will give the consumer a ‘wow’ when they open it up and they can connect with our brand,” Mass said.
Hybrid Arrives on the Scene
Another new feature at the 2017 Digital Packaging Summit was a panel discussion solely dedicated to hybrid printing technology, which included representatives from Mark Andy, Nilpeter, Fujifilm, Gallus and Kodak.
Steve Schulte, VP of sales and marketing for Mark Andy, explained that technological improvements in both flexographic and digital technologies have contributed to the emergence of hybrid. While Mark Andy is among the most prominent flexo press manufacturers, it has added digital printing to its offerings with the hybrid Mark Andy Digital Series (inkjet/flexo) and Mark Andy Digital One (toner/flexo).
“The quick changeover components with the high speed digital engines where you’re running 240 fpm in-line is more than twice what it was a few years ago,” Schulte said. “With those two things together, people are truly using it. They’re using the flexo, the decorative and the digital [components] every day.”
According to Andre Blais, sales manager for Gallus, which has also launched an inkjet/flexo solution with its Gallus Labelfire 340, this type of hybrid technology can help converters achieve the short-run advantages of digital, while still implementing the embellishment capabilities of flexo.
For example, he stated that the craft beer, wine and spirits industries are rapidly growing and are in need of short-run label production. With hybrid, he explained, digitally printed labels can now achieve similar value-add elements to their conventional counterparts.
Unlike Other Events
Since its debut in 2015, the Digital Packaging Summit has aimed to be unlike other industry events. There is no equipment on display and no booths to browse. Instead, suppliers and attendees are encouraged to learn more about each other’s businesses and solutions through case study presentations and one-on-one meetings. The idea is that attendees will leave the event with more than just an awareness of digital solutions that are available, but also with an understanding of the technologies that may be right for their business.
“If you’re a converter that’s willing to learn about everything that’s out there – not just from the people supplying the products and the manufacturers, but also from other converters in different stages, I think this is the best place to go,” Ken Collins, VP of sales and marketing for Adcraft Labels, said. “I thought the case study series was extremely informative. We got to see some types of machines that we weren’t familiar with, and actually listen to people who have gone through the process and learn from that.”
Keith Nagle, digital product manager for Nilpeter, said that the structure of the Digital Packaging Summit was great for engagement between converters and suppliers. Unlike a trade show, he said there are minimal distractions from the content, and attendees are there to do more than just browse.
“It’s a completely different format from what we’re used to, but once you get into it and get to see how it’s structured and have the one on one time, I think it’s a very good and fruitful event,” Nagle said. “It’s an extremely focused event. With a lot of other events, there are people that are there for one reason or another and you can see them in passing. But here, it’s focused.”
Slingerland, of Abbott-Action, explained that the learning opportunities and in-depth conversations he was able to have with suppliers was beneficial as a recent adopter of digital.
“It was a huge value to spend time with a myriad of vendors — leaders in the market — and hear about them and they were interested in what we had to say,” he said. “We weren’t a fit for everything, but at least we’re seeing the whole scope of digital.”